A5 dual carriageway delay unacceptable given economic importance – Brendan Smith T.D.

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Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith has criticised the decision to divert funding from the A5 dual carriageway in light of the overspend at the National Children’s Hospital.

 

Deputy Smith commented “The A5 dual carriageway is a vital piece of infrastructure for my constituents in Cavan/Monaghan and those living in border communities. I have repeatedly  stressed the importance of this transport link at meetings of the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

“The economic benefits for the border region are there for all to see. Due to a lack of rail services we are limited on transport options and are totally reliant on an inadequate road network, which is in urgent needed of an upgrade. Cavan and Monaghan, and neighbouring counties north of the border, are home to a number of major engineering and agricultural companies – all of which need proper roads infrastructure to move their products out of their bases. 

 

“I have consistently highlighted to Minister Ross and the Government through parliamentary questions and in debates in Dáil Éireann the need to invest heavily in infrastructure in the border region because of the particular difficulties that will arise for the local economy due to Brexit. The Minister must clarify the status of this project. People in Monaghan, Tyrone, Derry, and Donegal have already waited too long for this significant and essential road upgrade, “concluded Deputy Smith.

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Further measures needed to tackle cross-border smuggling and illicit trade – Brendan Smith TD

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I continue to support the campaign of Retailers Against Smugglers in their ongoing efforts to protect legitimate businesses.

Despite additional measures being implemented there is still a very significant illicit trade in many products including tobacco, fuel and alcohol.

I have repeatedly called on the Government to ensure that every action possible is taken to deal with the scourge of such illicit trade which seriously impacts on genuine businesses. Of course the quality of product being smuggled is very questionable as well.

Below Minister’s reply to my most recent Parliamentary Question I tabled in Dáil Éireann

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For Oral Answer on : 30/01/2019
Question Number(s): 44 Question Reference(s): 4326/19
Department: Justice and Equality
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration is being given to the implementation of additional measures to counteract cross-Border criminality with particular reference to illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and drinks products which impact adversely on revenue in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

(See attached file: Supplementaries PQ4326.docx)
I can assure the Deputy that tackling cross-border crime is a high priority for this Government, the Gardaí and our other law enforcement authorities. There is close cooperation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border and the two police services work very closely together on a broad range of policing responsibilities.

Considerable operational activity takes place aimed at tackling the priority areas across the range of criminal activities. In addition to the ‘traditional’ areas of focus – fuel, tobacco, alcohol and other excise frauds and drug trafficking – there has been focus on rural crime (thefts from farms, burglaries and road crimes) and on human trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation.

Excise fraud, including the illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and alcohol, is an area of serious concern to authorities north and south of the border. In February 2018, an investigation led by the Revenue Commissioners, uncovered a manufacturing cigarette factory in County Louth, which contained a full production facility for making cigarettes. This operation led to 23.5 million cigarettes and 71 tonnes of raw tobacco, along with tobacco precursor materials being seized. This find represents one of the largest illicit production facilities ever detected in Europe.

Authorities on both sides of the border are also committed to tackling all forms of fuel fraud. Measures implemented by Revenue to tackle the problem include the introduction of stringent new supply chain controls and reporting requirements for fuel transactions to minimise the scope for fraud. In addition, Revenue and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs undertook a joint initiative to find a new fiscal marker for use in marked fuels, which was introduced in Ireland and the United Kingdom from the beginning of April 2015. The industry view is that the measures implemented to date have been successful in curtailing the problem in Ireland.

Further, the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs have recently initiated investigations into alcohol-diversion fraud and duty-suspended alcohol moving between both jurisdictions.

The success of these cross border policing actions is grounded in the recognition that the best means of combatting this threat to our communities is to maintain and enhance the excellent levels of cooperation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border. The Gardaí and PSNI, along with other agencies, have worked together closely for many years and enjoy an excellent working relationship and co-operation at all levels. Clearly, Brexit will have an impact on this relationship, but the Government is working towards ensuring that the co-operation can continue to the maximum extent possible.

A crucial component of our shared strategy with our Northern Ireland colleagues in tackling cross border criminality has been the establishment of the Joint Agency Task Force, set up under the ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement of 2015. The Task Force brings together a wide range of experts drawn from policing, revenue and other enforcement agencies across both jurisdictions to co-ordinate strategic and operational actions against cross-border organised crime.

The Strategic Oversight Group of the Task Force is chaired jointly at senior management level by the two police services in order to provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities. This group also includes senior personnel from relevant agencies.

Senior officers from An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland jointly chair the Operations Co-ordination Group, which brings forward operational actions in the six priority areas that have been the focus of the work of the Task Force. These are: Rural Crime; Immigration-related Crime; Excise Fraud; Drugs; Financial Crime and Human Trafficking.

These cross-border policing structures provide a sound basis for future joint policing initiatives aimed at counter-acting cross-border criminality.
In addition, as part of the general increase in recruitment and resourcing of An Garda Síochána, additional Garda resources have been deployed to border areas in recent months to meet operational demands and this process is continuing.

Need to tackle flooding problems caused by Erne River in Co Cavan – Brendan Smith TD

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I welcome the commitment of Minister Moran to visit Co Cavan again in relation to flooding problems and the need for major drainage works.

The River Erne causes substantial flooding problems in Co Cavan and each year this causes great hardship for many householders and farmers.  A major river system, like the Erne, should be included under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 and that is the only way that a major drainage/flood relief programme could be carried out.

Below replies to recent Parliamentary Questions I tabled in Dáil Éireann to Minister Boxer Moran –

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For Oral Answer on : 07/02/2019
Question Number(s): 18 Question Reference(s): 5951/19
Department: Public Expenditure and Reform
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to include more river systems under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 such as the River Erne system; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

 Historically, flood risk management focused on the arterial drainage of river catchments to improve agricultural land. Maintenance of Arterial and Drainage District channels, designated under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945, is the responsibility of the OPW and Local Authorities respectively.  These include the maintenance by the OPW of the Boyne, Inny and Glyde-and-Dee Arterial Drainage Schemes in County Cavan that in 2018 included seventy-eight kilometres of river channel maintenance at an estimated cost of €460,000.

In 1995, due to nationally increasing urbanisation, the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 was amended to facilitate the OPW’s implementation of localised flood relief schemes to provide flood protection to cities, towns and villages.

The launch of the Flood Risk Management Plans in May 2018, following the largest ever study of flood risk in Ireland, has identified that Government investment is feasible to protect 95 percent of properties at assessed risk from significant flooding through flood relief schemes.

Together with this legislative amendment and in line with the Government’s 2004 policy on flood risk management, the OPW has no plans for catchment-wide arterial drainage schemes. However to target the management of flood risk outside of cities, towns and villages, in 2009 the OPW introduced the Minor Flood Mitigation Works & Coastal Protection Scheme.

The purpose of this scheme is to provide funding to Local Authorities to undertake flood mitigation works or studies to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas. Since 2009, approximately €46.4m has been approved for in excess of 720 projects around the country which illustrates its many benefits to communities all over Ireland.

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For Oral Answer on : 07/02/2019
Question Number(s): 33 Question Reference(s): 5950/19
Department: Public Expenditure and Reform
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the plans of the OPW and the Department for Infrastructure Rivers in Northern Ireland to advance their work on a cross-Border basis to implement the EU floods directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

The EU ‘Floods’ Directive came into force in 2007, and requires the Member States to undertake a Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment to identify the areas of potentially significant flood risk within their territories, to prepare maps of the flood hazard and risk for these areas, and then to prepare Flood Risk Management Plans setting out measures aimed at managing and reducing the flood risk within these areas. The ‘Floods’ Directive also requires Member States to exchange information and coordinate in undertaking these steps in cross-border river basins.

It was agreed in 2009 by the Office of Public Works and the Department for Infrastructure, Rivers of Northern Ireland that a Cross-Border Coordination Group, supported by a Cross-Border Technical Coordination Group, would be established to facilitate the exchange of information and coordination in the implementation of the Directive. The Group has met on a number of occasions, and has ensured that information has been exchanged as necessary, and that there is a good mutual awareness of the approaches to implementation in both jurisdictions. In particular, for areas of potentially significant flood risk that are on or near the border such as Lifford in Co. Donegal and Strabane in Northern Ireland, the two organisations have liaised closely to ensure a common understanding of the risk and the appropriate measures for such areas.

In addition, representatives from the OPW have attended and participated in relevant meetings in Northern Ireland during the implementation of the Directive. Similarly, representatives from the Department for Infrastructure, Rivers have been members of the Steering Groups for the relevant Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Projects, and are also members of the National Floods Directive Coordination Group that is chaired by the OPW. This has helped ensure coordination and exchange of information on a regular basis at the strategic and operational levels.

The matter of joint, cross-border activity was considered by the Group during its early meetings, and it was concluded that due to legacy work and for technical and administrative reasons, the implementation of the Directive would not be undertaken by joint action. The Department for Infrastructure, Rivers and the OPW have however coordinated closely in the implementation of the Directive within their respective jurisdictions, as previously noted, and have also liaised in more detail on particular matters such as flood forecasting and hydrometric monitoring.

Further, more general cross-border coordination has also been ongoing in the field of flood risk management through bilateral meetings of the two organisations for many years, and through the Irish National Hydrometric Working Group and Joint National Committee of the International Hydrological Programme and the International Commission for Irrigation and Drainage that the Department for Infrastructure, Rivers are members of.

GOVERNMENT MUST PROTECT CAP FUNDING – BRENDAN SMITH T.D.

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I have repeatedly called on the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that there is no reduction in funding for CAP post 2020.

Payments made in support of farming through  CAP are an extremely important and vital part of farm income.  With so much downward pressure on prices paid to farmers at present it would not be acceptable in any way to have CAP funding reduced.

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For Oral Answer on : 06/02/2019
Question Number(s): 32 Question Reference(s): 5622/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if indications have been given at recent EU Council of Agriculture Ministers meetings and at meetings with the Agriculture Commissioner in relation to the funding level for CAP post-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

The EU proposed CAP budgetary ceilings are a part of the wider proposals on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the European Union for the period 2021-2027.  The proposals are ultimately a matter for agreement between Ministers for Finance and Heads of State.  The European Commission has proposed, as part of the MFF, that funding for the Common Agricultural Policy should not exceed €365 billion for the period 2021-2027. This equates to a cut of around 5% compared to the current provision.  Latest reports are indicating that negotiations on the next MFF will not be finalised until Autumn 2019.

I have been working closely with my European colleagues to build a consensus to reverse the cut to the CAP budget and to maintain support to CAP at the current EU 27 level.  In May last year, I, along with my EU Ministerial colleagues from France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland signed a joint Memorandum seeking the retention of the CAP budget at current levels.  The Memorandum was presented at the Agri-Fish Council in Luxembourg in June 2018 and up to 20 other EU Ministers have signalled their support to this proposal now.  At the Agrifish Council on 16 July 2018 France and Germany presented a joint declaration on the CAP proposals including a joint rejection of the cuts proposed. This paper was supported by other Member states including Croatia, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, Belgium and Ireland.

I had a further opportunity to discuss the CAP budget at the recent Agri-Fish Council which took place on the 28 January.  I again emphasised the point that we need to ensure an adequate budget for Pillar I and Pillar II.   Over the coming months detailed negotiations will continue at all levels across the EU as we work together to shape the final outcome. At the centre of all our considerations will be the need to ensure that CAP Post 2020, properly funded, will continue to support farm families and the rural economy.

I can assure the deputy that I will continue to work to develop a broad consensus on the value of a strong, fit for purpose agriculture sector, and work to reverse the cuts proposed in the draft MFF.

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For Oral Answer on : 06/02/2019
Question Number(s): 41 Question Reference(s): 5621/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the outcome of recent discussions at the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers and with the EU Agriculture Commissioner in relation to CAP reform and funding for CAP post-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

The new regulations for the CAP 2021-27 were launched on Friday 1 June 2018 by Commissioner Hogan. The proposals, as drafted, involve significant changes, including in relation to governance, the distribution of direct payments among farmers and the increasing environmental conditionality attaching to such payments.

Consideration of the CAP proposals is ongoing at EU level.  Since the legislative proposals were launched in June 2018 a total of 25 Working Group meetings have taken place under the Austrian Presidency.    The proposals are also discussed at the Special Committee of Agriculture meetings on a regular basis.  In addition, CAP post 2020 is also a standing agenda item at every Agri-Fish Council meeting where I have discussed the CAP proposals extensively with my Agriculture Ministerial colleagues.

The Romanian Presidency outlined an equally intensive programme of Working Group meetings to discuss specific aspects of the CAP proposals for the duration of their Presidency.

I had a further opportunity to discuss the proposals at the recent Agri-Fish Council on Monday 28 January. Agriculture Ministers exchanged views on the new performance-based delivery model.  Discussions focussed in particular on the annual deadline of reporting requirements, and  a progressive approach to targets and possible deviations in the first two years of implementation of the new programme.  My Ministerial colleagues and I also discussed the agricultural reserve and financial discipline.   Also on the CAP proposals, we held an exchange of views on the wine related provisions set out in the common market organisation amended regulations, including the possibility of opening the market to new wine grape varieties.  Commissioner Hogan informed delegations about the proposed green architecture.  Also during the CAP discussions, a group of Member States, led by the Slovenian delegation, presented a declaration on having appropriate funding for rural development in the next MFF.

The overall level of the CAP budget post 2020 is a key priority for me.  Member States are facing a 3.9% cut to Pillar 1 Direct Payments funding, and a 15% cut to Pillar 2 Rural Development funding.  This is unacceptable in my view especially in light of the current developing situation surrounding Brexit.  The retention of an adequate budget for the CAP post 2020 is a key priority for Ireland.  The CAP budget is part of the Multiannual Financial Framework for the EU which is a matter for unanimous agreement by Heads of State and Government.

I have been advocating strongly amongst my agriculture counterparts to maintain a strong CAP budget.  I co-signed a Joint Memorandum in Madrid in May last year, which calls for the CAP budget to be retained at current levels for the EU 27 post 2020.  The memorandum has been supported by up to 20 other EU Agriculture Ministers.

We will continue to work together on this issue as the negotiations for the CAP post 2020 and its budgetary allocations progress, and I will continue to seek to secure the best possible outcome for the Irish agri-food sector.

 

Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade & Defence to hear from Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association

Among the issues to be discussed today will be the important role of our Reserve Defence Forces

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7 Feb 2019, 09.29

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade & Defence will meet today at 9.45 in Committee Room 1, Leinster House to hear from the newly elected Executive from the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association.

The Committee will be briefed on issues within the Reserve Defence Forces by General Secretary of the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association, Neil Richardson.

In advance of the meeting, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, Deputy Brendan Smith, said: “The Committee is eager to receive an update and hear the voice of the Reserve Defence Forces members. The service which the Reserve Defence Forces provides is invaluable, and with that in mind it will be good to discuss matters with RDFRA.”

“It is of the utmost importance that the welfare and conditions which Reserve Defence Forces members experience are sufficient, and the Committee is keen to ascertain the level of progress made in this regard.

“Furthermore, members of the Committee will be seeking information and detail on how the State is fulfilling its duty of care for members of the Reserve Defence Forces. The committee recognises the important role that the RDF plays in contributing to Ireland’s defence capability.”

Committee proceedings can be viewed live here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/oireachtas-tv/cr1-live/

Government needs to start listening to nurses’ concerns – Brendan Smith TD

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Speaking to nurses on the INMO picket line yesterday it is clear that those staff members want to be at work providing professional care for  their patients.

Both Councillor Philip Brady and I outlined our strong views that the Government and the Health Minister need to engage in meaningful talks and proper discussions with the Union without further delay.

Account must be taken of the changed role of the nursing profession over recent years and proper remuneration and employment conditions are required.  Government needs to start listening to nurses.

INTERNET SAFETY

5 February is #SaferInternetDay in Ireland and across the EU.

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The internet and social media have become an integral part of our lives and how we communicate. Our youth are increasingly connected to the online world and have access to a wealth of opportunities in education, enrichment, and entertainment. However, this interconnectivity increasingly allows for online abuse and cybercrime.

The internet should be safe and open for everyone, and we must work to promote a healthy internet environment for our youth, being sure to speak with children and teens about online safety and boundaries.

Together we can work toward a safer internet for all.